Tuesday, December 18

The Cure For Perfectionism

The Cure For Perfectionism

A fellow blogger and writer, John Ward, published a post today about the problem of perfectionism. (See: The Trap of Perfection)

That got me thinking.

I know I've written in the past about my encounters, actually they were more like knock-down-drag-out fights, with writer's block and how the feeling that one's prose has to be perfect lies at the heart of it. (See: Perfection Is The Death Of Creativity)

Of course we all want our writing to be brilliant, but there's a special sort of inferiority, a certain acute sense of ennui, of hopelessness, that blossoms within me whenever I read a truly stunning piece of prose--two of my favorite writers are Neil Gaiman and Margaret Atwood--and I'm pretty darn sure my own scribbles aren't going to ever ascend to that level.

The Cure For Perfectionism

The cure, for me, is to realize I'm not alone.

It's not just your prose that is likely never going to ascend to the dizzying heights of the greats. The overwhelming majority of writers--and here I'm talking about professional writers, folks who have spent their careers publishing book after book and who sell well--aren't going to be wordsmiths of that caliber. (This is, of course, IMHO.)

So, you're in good company. Professional writers don't let the fact that they probably will never be nominated for a Nobel Prize in literature stop them from writing the best darn story they can. Remember, stories are about plot too, and creating narrative drive and all the rest of it.

While Dan Brown will likely never be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Literature, he told a darn fine story, one that many folks enjoyed reading and that sold well. For me, Dan Brown is an inspiration.

The next time you're feeling as though your writing will never be 'good enough', go down to your local bookstore and browse through the bestseller section. These are books that have sold hundreds of thousands of copies and I guarantee you that you're going to find at least one book where you have the reaction: I can write better than this.

Hold onto that!

In those times when you feel like giving up, look at books like these. Sometimes that's just the sort of perspective you need to leave your self-doubts, your self-consciousness, behind and write.

At least, one can hope! :-)

If you have a tip or trick for smothering the siren call of perfectionism please leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Other articles you might like:

- The Value of Google+ As A Writer's Platform
- Getting Ready for 2013: A Writer's Guide
- The Structure Of Short Stories

Photo credit: "winter friends" by AlicePopkorn under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.


  1. Karen, I don't think it hurts to aspire to perfectionism, as if we do, our writing will be better, as we'll challenge ourselves more. Yes, when we look at some of the great authors of the past and present, we can become downcast, but picking up and reading some of the women's fiction from the NYTimes best-selling list encourages me--these stories are not usually written perfectly, but they do have good plots. That's what most readers want.

    1. Hi Denise, thanks for your comment! I always enjoy reading what you have to say. You're a thoughtful person.

      As my Gran used to say, "To each their own."

  2. Perfection is a good goal, but we can only strive to attain it. There is bliss, a kind of wonder, when we come close to perfection. . . what a moment that is to bask in! Doing, being and attaining our best, or better than our best, is good enough. I love the character, Mary Poppins, created by P. L. Travers. She says, ". . . practically perfect in every way". More important than perfection is infusing our lives and our writings with the very essence and being of who we are. The value of the "life" of "who" each and everyone of us is, is precious and should be celebrated. That is more perfection than anything. Cat McMahon, "practically perfect in every way"

  3. I look at writing as cabinet making, in a way (someone else used pottery as a metaphor and it applies also).

    The first draft is the rough-hewn final product. It looks and acts like it's supposed to, but it's rough around the edges. Everything after that first draft is the trimming, sanding, polishing needed to get to that asymptotically approaching place of perfection. You can rub metaphorical linseed oil in that cabinet forever, and it will looked marginally better after each application, but at a certain point you've got to look at it and accept that it's time to let it out on its own.

    1. Good analogy, I like it.

      For some reason it brought to mind Stephen King's belief that stories exist independently of writers and are, in some sense, waiting 'out there' ready for us to find/discover. He compares writing to an archaeologist digging for fossils.

      It's an interesting way of looking at what we do when we write. Thank you for your comment. :)

  4. Humility is the only counterattack against perfectionism. Recognizing that we're human, and flawed, and that in many ways "perfect" is the enemy of "good enough."

    I believe it was GK Chesterton who said that anything worth doing is worth doing badly. We can correct the mistakes we've made in our writing, but we can't correct the mistakes we haven't made because we're too tense even to start.

    1. "... anything worth doing is worth doing badly."

      I laughed when I read that quotation, it's perfect! I agree, especially when it comes to a first draft. In fact, just yesterday I was having a battle with writer's block but I pushed through and wrote. Not as much as I wanted, but something. This morning I took a look at what I'd done and the part I wrote with abandon, throwing caution and good taste to the winds, was the best work I'd done all week. But, at the time, I couldn't judge.


Because of the number of bots leaving spam I had to prevent anonymous posting. My apologies. I do appreciate each and every comment.